By Lynne Levesque, Ivey St. John and Paul Sullivan
Earlier this summer, one of us started to install her air conditioner and found she needed a block of wood to stabilize the unit. A year ago, she would have had to jump into her car, drive to the local big box store, and be prepared to spend an hour just trying to find someone to help her. Not any more! Now, she was able to just walk across the street and five minutes later walk out with her block of wood and spend the rest of the time enjoying the cool air. She could also thank the Jeff, Norma and Wyatt Baars for moving to Charlestown from the MidWest to open the Charlestown Ace Hardware Store.
It’s clear to anyone after visiting the store that Charlestown didn’t just get a hardware store. We got a family-owned and operated, customer friendly (and pet friendly!) incredible addition to our retail community. A good old-fashioned hardware store!
Where else can you get that perfect match of paint color to a piece of fabric? Where else can you get 5 2-inch screws (instead of having to by a box of 100)? Where else to get a piece of glass cut, a screen fixed, or your light bulbs recycled? And if they don’t have it, Wyatt, Norma or Jeff Baars, or one of their ten friendly associates (five of whom grew up and still live in Charlestown) will help you figure out where to get it or what to do instead!
Who are the Baars and why did they uproot themselves from Wisconsin to come to Boston? And why a hardware store and why here?
When Wyatt and his wife decided they wanted to stay in the Boston area after college, Jeff and Norma decided to fulfill a life-long dream to own their own business. They chose Ace because Jeff was an Ace corporate executive for eight years and knew how the company worked. He and his family liked the fact that each store is actually owned by individuals who are part of a buying cooperative. “As part of a cooperative,” Jeff commented, “we are able to get the benefits of larger buying power. But we still get to make all decisions about the store as owners. We can tailor our inventory to the Charlestown community. We can give the store the look and feel that we want.”
The Baars settled on opening their store in Charlestown after a careful search of six urban sites in the Boston area. “We chose Charlestown,” Norma told us, “because we liked the community and the location. There was good parking, the right amount of space for us, with many other stores and a post office to draw customers.”
Although it took the Baars several months to complete the considerable renovation work needed to bring the combined space from the former Radio Shack and mattress store up to current sanitary and fire department codes, it hasn’t taken them long to become part of the Charlestown community. Since they opened, they have networked with other retailers and community organizations in Charlestown. They have held store events with the Charlestown Community Center, Anthony’s Dream, and the USS Constitution Museum. A joint event with the Charlestown Mothers’ Association is in the planning stages. There is also a bike workshop coming up. The planters in front of the store are from the Raspberry Bouquet and inside are advertisements for other local businesses.
Anyone walking into the Ace Hardware receives a warm welcome and immediately feels like a guest in the store – which is exactly what the Baars family calls their customers. To ensure this high standard of “guest service,” all employees (called “associates”) go through a careful recruitment, screening and training process. According to Jeff, “We hold our store to very high standards. We are lucky to have found great associates and we want to treat them right, because a store is only as good as the associates who serve our guests.”
In 2008, the Charlestown Retail Organization took a survey of Charlestown households, asking whether they wanted more retail shops and restaurants in Charlestown. The response rate was a very respectable 15% and the answer to that question was an almost universal YES. At the top of the list for what Charlestown needed most (after more food and dining choices) was a hardware store. Two years later, that wish has been fulfilled with the opening of the Charlestown Ace Hardware store in the Bunker Hill Mall. Welcome, Jeff, Norma and Wyatt Baars!